On Nov. 3, the provincial government invoked the notwithstanding clause (Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and used Bill 28 to make it illegal for the 55,000 school support staff and early childhood educators to go on strike, as was the plan announced earlier that week by their union.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members, ignoring Bill 28, still walked out on their jobs on November 4 and 7. Frustrations included unfair wages, the lack of early childhood educators, the shortfall of librarians, unpaid prep time for educational assistants and ECEs.
On Nov. 7, Premier Doug Ford said his government would repeal Bill 28, and CUPE agreed to have its members back to work on Nov. 8.
On Nov. 16, CUPE announced a notice to strike again.
However, on November 20, CUPE and the Ford government were able to reach a potential agreement. The union clarified that the proposed agreement provides a $1/hour wage increase for all CUPE workers per year for the four-year contract.
In addition to strikes affecting school support staff and early childhood educators, they also have a direct impact on students as well.
Many students are holding their breath and hoping for the best as ratification votes by CUPE members will continue until Dec. 5.
Here are some students’ thoughts about the possibility of another strike in terms of their education.
“I am 100 per cent against the strike,” Timothy Santos, a Grade 11 student at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy, said. “The strike is putting a halt to our education.
Santos feels that students are having their education taken away from them. He doesn’t believe that online learning is a fair option for students.
“Online learning was never a good idea to begin with,” Santos said. “Students only liked it because they were able to be in the comfort of their own room, but it’s because they were in the comfort of their own room that it ultimately failed.”
This is the first school year since the Covid-19 pandemic that has felt completely normal, and just as students got it back, it feels as though they are being deprived of proper education again.
Ryan Maniyakku, Grade 11 student at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy, shared his feelings on CUPE potentially striking again: “Due to Covid-19, I’ve lost almost two years of my education, and now it’s slowly starting to come back, as our world started to become more normal.
“With (another potential) strike, it is now making my education worse because we don’t know how long this strike will last for, which can be hard on a student.”
On the other hand, Shiyu Lin, another Grade 11 student attending Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy, has differing opinions.
“As long as they are protesting peacefully, I don’t see a problem with it,” Lin said. “I support union and worker rights; everyone deserves a living.
“We have to keep in mind that these are real people that are in need of jobs and have children,” Lin said. “It is not fair for them to have to decide between their rent or a car payment.”
Lin does agree that the strike affects her education.
“It’s hard to learn online because of distractions, and it doesn’t feel like real school, so that’s when students begin to slack off,” Lin said. “There’s also no real effort to get up in the morning, as I don’t have to walk to class, or go to my locker, or see my peers for that matter.”
Even though it does affect her education, Lin said: “Union workers’ rights, I believe, outweigh our education, as long as it is for a few days.”
Lin said that she is ready to give up a few days of in-person education (if necessary) so that CUPE employees can defend their right to work.
Ratification voting by CUPE members started on Nov. 24 and will end on Dec. 5. The results will be made public on Dec. 5.
Photo: Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy students share their thoughts on strikes. (Story and photo submitted by Eva Laforteza-Recto.)